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Early bird catches the Thunder and Kevin Durant in OKC

Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant shoots a

Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant shoots a layup against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 25, 2013. Credit: AP / John Minchillo

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Facing other great players usually gets Carmelo Anthony's blood flowing a little more, so it shouldn't be too much of a problem for him to get up for Sunday's duel with the Thunder and MVP candidate Kevin Durant.

"Literally, I got to get up," Anthony said. "That's a 12 o'clock game [Central time]. We should be used to it by now playing in New York, noon games or 1 and 2 o'clock games. If you don't get up for games like that, then something is wrong with you."

Anthony and Durant are the NBA's two best scorers. But trying to match Durant's point total is only one of Anthony's challenges Sunday.

Another one for him -- and Mike Woodson -- will be making sure everyone else on the Knicks is up to play the Western Conference-leading Thunder and the second-best player on the planet behind LeBron James.

It shouldn't be hard, but the Knicks, who enjoyed a 27-point win over Denver on Friday night, have played poorly this season in early games.

They are 0-3 in noon games, with a 27-point average margin of defeat. The Knicks have won only one of their six afternoon games and have been outscored by 126 points overall.

The Thunder handed the Knicks one of those losses, a 29-point drubbing on Christmas Day. But the Knicks were without Anthony in that game because of an ankle injury.

Now Anthony is healthy and playing his best ball of the season, which is a good thing for the Knicks (20-30) and Woodson, whose job reportedly could be in jeopardy. But Durant is playing even better and the Thunder (40-12) lost in Orlando on Friday, which could be bad for Woodson and the Knicks.

Durant is the NBA's leading scorer, averaging 31.0 points. He's lifted his all-around game, especially with the Thunder missing Russell Westbrook with a knee injury.

Durant is averaging 7.6 rebounds and a career-best 5.5 assists and is shooting 51.1 percent from the field. And he's gotten Anthony's attention from afar.

"Oh, spectacular season, just top to bottom, everything he's doing," Anthony said. "The way guys are actually putting him in position to succeed. He keeps getting better. That's something that I love about him. He keeps getting better. He works hard and he's going to continue getting better in this league."

Durant led the NBA in scoring three of the previous four seasons. He was second last season to Anthony, who trails only Durant this season, scoring 27.4 points per game. The two were named players of the month in their conferences in January.

In his last 19 games, Durant is averaging 34.9 points, 6.7 assists and 6.3 rebounds. He's really the only player in the MVP conversation besides James.

So much of the Knicks' attention will be on Durant, but Woodson goes into this game with confidence. It's a different team from last season's, but the Knicks won in Oklahoma City in April during a 13-game winning streak.

"They got to guard Melo and our crew, too," Woodson said. "When we are clicking, we are a pretty hard team to guard as well, when we are making shots. [But] they cause a major threat for a lot of teams."

The Knicks are coming off a good performance against Denver. They shot 56.5 percent overall and outscored the Nuggets 67-46 in the second half. They hope it can be a springboard to a good finish.

"I think it definitely proves that we should be playing better, we can play better," J.R. Smith said. "It's just a matter of us getting stops on the defensive end and playing fast in transition on the offensive end."


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